March 14, 2005--Veteran Democratic operatives
James Carville and Stan Greenberg have publicly wondered why President
Bush and the Republican Party have not "crashed and burned" due to the
Social Security debate.
A Rasmussen Reports survey helps answer that
question and suggests that Democrats may be in a weaker position
strategically than a top-line look at the polls would indicate.
Some Congressional Democrats have suggested
that no change of any kind should be made in the nation's Social Security
program. Just 28%
of Americans favor that approach. That's
ten-points below the level of initial support for President Bush's call for
personal retirement accounts.
Sixty percent (60%) of Americans oppose a do
Democrats are evenly divided on the
question--43% of Nancy Pelosi's party favor the leave-it-alone approach
while 45% are opposed.
Republicans, by a 75% to 16% margin reject
that approach. Those not affiliated with either party are nearly as
strong in their opposition to doing nothing--61% of unaffiliateds oppose
that approach while only 23% support it.
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Two-thirds of Americans under 50 reject the
do-nothing approach. Even a plurality (47%) of those over 65 agree that
some changes are needed.
Significant confusion surrounds the debate on
Social Security reform. The Rasmussen Reports survey found that 25% of
Americans believe the President's approach would require young
workers to set up a personal retirement account. In fact, all reform
proposals would give workers a choice between staying in the current
program or setting up personal accounts.
surveys have shown that large segments of the over-65 population
believe their own benefits will be cut if personal retirement accounts are
established. This fear remains despite President Bush's frequent
declarations that benefits will be guaranteed for those 55 and over.
The impact of these misconceptions on public
opinion are enormous. When asked initially about personal
retirement accounts, just 38% say they favor the program and 47% are
However, when told that personal retirement
accounts would be a choice, not a requirement for younger workers--and
that those over 55 would be fully protected--support jumps by 13
percentage points to 51%. Even more dramatically, opposition to the
plan falls by 20 points to 27%.
With those protections in place, those over 65
favor the proposal by a 42% to 31% margin. Those under 40 support the
proposal by a 3-to-1 margin.
Even with those protections in place,
rank-and-file Democrats oppose the plan by a narrow 45% to 33% margin.
Republicans support it by a 71% to 13% margin while unaffiliateds lean in
the GOP's direction, favoring reform by nearly 2-to-1 margin, 47% to 26%.
Given a straight-up choice between
leaving Social Security unchanged and a proposal for personal retirement
accounts (with protections as described above), 45% prefer personal
retirement accounts while 37% say doing nothing would be the better path
By a 2-to-1 margin, those over 65 say doing
nothing is the better option. By a similar margin, those under 40 take the
opposite view. Americans from 40 to 64 are fairly evenly divided.
Republicans, by a 3-to-1 margin prefer
personal retirement accounts. Democrats, by a 2-to-1 margin, say doing
nothing is better than implementing personal accounts. Unaffiliateds are
fairly evenly divided, but lean slightly towards personal retirement
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Rasmussen Reports is an electronic
publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and
distribution of public opinion polling information. We recently
Social Security: Has the Season for Reform Arrived?
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This survey of 2,000 Adults was
conducted by Rasmussen Reports March 10-13, 2005. The margin of
sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95% level of